Offensive Strides Causes Defensive Letdown

Florida players know why the defensive struggles have started. It actually begins when the Gators have the ball. After struggling to score points for the first half of the season, the Gators' offense has turned it around in recent weeks. The increased point totals made the team think they could win every game with their offense.

It's not the mindset expected from a team that starts three seniors and one junior, yet it's something this team still deals with. Head coach Billy Donovan said last week that he has an older team, but they're not a mature one. A lot of that has to do with his team struggling to put together a complete game this season.

"You get a little satisfied when you're making shots that you can win with your offense," senior forward Chandler Parsons said. "We understand that we need to win on defense. If we make shots, then so be it."

Early in the year, the Gators looked like they would be a team that struggled to break 60 points. Shots weren't falling from the outside and the offense had no ball movement.

The team won with defense. They knew the offense wasn't going to put up many points, so defense was their only hope.

"Coming out of the holidays, we were having a hard time scoring and utilizing each other," Donovan said. "We weren't shooting a great percentage and had too many turnovers. It was our defense that really kept us in winning some of those games where we probably didn't score enough points to win, but we were able to win."

The breakout performance came on New Year's Eve when the Gators put up 71 points at Xavier, passing the 70-point mark for the first time in seven games. In four games since then, the Gators have gone over 70 points in every game except one, a 72-69 loss to South Carolina on Saturday.

Those 69 points would have been enough to win most games the Gators have played this season, but the lack of defense allowed the Gamecocks to win.

Florida had won eight of their previous nine games before the loss to South Carolina, and their work ethic on the defensive end grew stale.

"When you win, the one thing that has to get better is our maturity in understanding what into winning," Donovan said. "The question turns into- how can that be with so many older guys? When they win, you have to look at where you have to get better. The best way you want to learn is through winning. It's not fun having to learn through losing."

The upperclassmen know it's on them to take command of the team and buckle down when they are on defense. It just hasn't happened yet. Until the team proves that it can play a few games consistently, no one will really know what this team's potential is.

"I think it's just a lack of focus," junior point guard Erving Walker said. "When shots aren't going as a team, we have to keep our focus on defense."

After dominating the rebounding margin all season, the Gators tied with Tennessee on the boards and were outrebounded by the Gamecocks 42-39, despite Florida having a significant height advantage on the low post.

"Teams are a lot bigger and stronger here," Parsons said. "We've got to come each game with the mentality that we're going to win it on the defensive end. We've got to keep going to the glass and blocking out our man."

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